Keen 1Haley KeenSusan LesterAdvanced Lit.11 October 2011 The Issues Facing Churches and Bible Studies It is Sunday morning and Michael, age 12, has just gotten out of his 9:20 A.M worshipservice at his church. Every Sunday after church he attends a Bible study class to learn about thebible and the stories that it contains. He sits down in his usual seat in the classroom and hebegins to listen to his teacher. This scenario is the same for millions of children in the UnitedStates, and although they do not know this, these Bible studies that the children attend are crucialfactors that will influence their faith and spirituality in the future. So why has the number ofchildren who attend Bible study dropped 40% in the past three years (Shafer)? Some studieshave shown that children might be ‘too busy” for church Bible study groups nowadays becauseof a participation boom in extracurricular school activities such as sports and clubs. But is itreally because of packed schedules and sleep-in Sundays? Or could the real problems lie in theBible study classes themselves? In the field of youth ministry and education, the lack of child-friendly lessons and activities in church and Sunday school has a negative impact on a child’schurch attendance and participation in Sunday school classes. What are some of the thoughts that come to mind when the term “Bible study” or“Sunday school” is heard? There are many differing opinions about what the two should be, butlet us first agree on what they should not be. Rebbecca, age 14, walks into her first day ofSunday School. She sits down in a chair next to other children her age and her new teacher sitsdown at the table and begins to ask them questions. She starts to notice that most of the questions
Keen 1are somewhat hard to answer and many are quite personal. She starts to feel uncomfortable withthe questions being asked. She looks around the room and sees the other children are too. Theclass finishes and Rebbecca never comes back. Bible study is not an interrogation room. As anactive member in my church’s youth group, I know how it feels when a Bible study teacher usesclass time to dig into my past or to ask pointless questions. In his book, Grahame Knox explainsto Bible study teachers that “Bad questions cut short discussion and discourage participation.Some members...will begin to feel threatened and feel like they dont know anything.” This is,unfortunately, the situation for hundreds of children in churches today. Teachers do not need toask questions they already know the answer to or to try to make the students guess the answerthey specifically want. This error that teachers make gives the students the idea that the teacherdoes not think the students know anything about the given topic. Doing this can make childrenbecome insecure about their faith and, sometimes, even doubt it. Secondly, a children’s Biblestudy class should not be taught as a lecture or a sermon. A child learns best when they aretaught in a way that is easy for that child to understand. Children are more likely to participate indiscussions in Bible study when they are taught the lessons in child-like ways. Children like toplay games, and integrating games and fun into a Sunday School lesson will catch the childrensattention and they will have a better understanding for what is being taught. It is our job asSunday School and Bible study teachers to lead a class in a way that is most beneficial to ourstudents, and our students alone. Grahame Knox states in his book, “Positive interaction anddiscussion help move young people from impassive listening to a deeper involvement with eachother as they share thoughts and views about a passage of scripture.” What he trying to explain isthat teachers should keep their class positive and interact with the students in a way that iscomfortable to them, and by keeping the discussions at their level, the results will have lasting
Keen 1positive effects on the class as a whole. A Sunday school teacher takes on this job to mentorstudents in their faith and to watch them grow into their spirituality. The knowledge that a childleft the classroom on a Sunday morning with the lessons and the discussions still in mind, is veryrewarding. Therefore, the effect that will be left on that child will last a long, long time. Now that the negative factors have been identified; it should be easier to grasp a betterunderstanding of how a child Bible study group should be organized and lead. Emily, age 13,comes home every Sunday from her morning Bible study with a few of her friends from class.She is participating in a middle school girls bible study with many girls who go to her school andsome who do not, and over the past few Sundays, she has gotten to know all of them quite well.She tells her parents every afternoon after she gets home all about the fun games she participatesin, all of the lessons about famous women in the Bible, and the connections she has made withher classmates and her teacher as well. She continues to be an active participant in this studygroup through middle school and she even continues to attend the class in high school. Thisscenario is an example of only a few effects a properly taught Bible study can have on a child’slife. A fun-filled child-like based outlook on Bible studies can help create the ideal Bible studyfor children. Nadya Labi states in her article, “nowadays lessons are based on the Gospelaccording to the Simpsons, in which Homer stands in as Job, and the Gospel According to HarryPotter, in which the boy wizard’s decision to walk through what appears to be a solid wall to getto the train that will take him to his magical school becomes a meditation on faith.” SundaySchool teachers must organize and plan their lessons and class to benefit the “Nickelodeongeneration” (Labi). There are also many different opinions as to whether or not Sunday Schoolshould be more fun-based or more like a Sunday church service. If the children are having toomuch fun, then they will get to the point where they will forget the actual reason why they joined
Keen 1the class. To combat this problem, an equilibrium must be found so the fun and the lesson can beevenly balanced. Tom Crandall, a youth pastor mentioned in Ladi’s article, explains, “You’vegot to do whatever it takes to keep the kid’s attention focused on God...You’ve got to make itfun, or its just more dry religious stuff.” Another contributing factor in the classroom would be tostart asking the right questions. Knox stresses the fact that “Questions are an essential tool ingroup Bible study. Good questions help you engage with a passage, reflect on it and discover itsmeaning.” Open questions are the best type of questions that a youth bible study teacher can ask.There is no wrong or right answer and it pushes children to go beyond the answers yes and no.Asking the right questions gets children to think for themselves and to push themselves to reallyengage into the discussion. There are many things that can go wrong with this method, soteachers will need to prepare the questions before the class and also anticipate the possibleresponses we might receive (Knox). Thinking ahead in this way will decrease the tensionbetween student and teacher and will create a more relaxed setting, which is one of the goals inclass. Lastly, above all else, teachers must be able to listen to their students. When a child knowsshe is heard, she will feel encouraged to speak up more frequently and will be more open todiscussion with fellow students and their teacher. When there is a period of silence during class,a teacher should not take that time to hear her own voice or to answer her own questions. “Aneager group quickly becomes passive and silent if they think you do most of the talking” (Knox).When it all comes down to it, the students should be the ones who lead the class. Bible studyleaders are actually there to open up the discussion, listen to the student’s views on what is beingdiscussed, and to close the discussion at the end: “Listening first earns us the right to be listenedto when we speak” (Knox). When leaders become the listeners, the children will listen to theleaders when it is their turn to speak. By understanding this concept, Bible study will no longer
Keen 1be a class. It will become a place where young people can come and openly talk about their faith,any doubts they may have, or just about life in general. When the fun is balanced, the rightquestions are asked, and when teachers’ listening ears have been put on, they can create anenvironment that is enjoyable for the students and the themselves. Connections will be made andSunday School will no longer be the class that children dread on Sundays. So how are churches combating these issues they face today? Moreover, what arechurches doing to keep their kids participating in church services and Bible studies? Firstly,churches are starting to preach to the Nickelodeon generation in a showy, attention-grabbinglanguage they can actually understand (Labi). Church facilities are being updated with newtechnology to introduce computer games to help teach the word of God. They are becominghands-on. Teachers are baking unleavened bread to go along with the Exodus and having skitsfor certain passages in the Bible. Children learn when lessons are hands-on and accessible, andchurches are finally beginning to catch on to that idea. Secondly, there have been some drasticchanges in the Bible study setting among churches. Small groups are scheduled on the weekdaysto get rid of the “I needed to sleep in” excuse. Neil MacQueen states, “based on our mostsuccessful efforts, it would look a lot less like kids in folding chairs at 9am on Sunday everyweek. it would be varied and creative,not ‘one class or nothing.’ It might incorporate a blend ofspecial evenings, some special retreats, some family ministry events, some homes groups, andsome parent-led home teaching.” Thirdly, the most important change taking place is in theparents: “If you want to reach and disciple children, you must reach and disciple their parents”(Knox). When a child comes home from church or Bible study talking about all of the friendsthat were made and how she wants to go back, it is assumed that the parent will say ‘OK’ andreturn to said church. As a result of the fast growing childrens ministries across the country,
Keen 1more parents are bringing their children to church. Due to this fact, the outlook for Bible studiesand churches is very promising. A lot of change has been taking place within in the church, hence the growing populationamongst church groups services. The church body nevertheless has a long way to go until theycan fully understand the needs of the children in the congregation. Teachers are weaning awayfrom traditional practices like sermons and limited Sunday classes, and turning towards methodsthat children can actually enjoy and above all else, understand. In the Book of Matthew chapter19 verse 14, Jesus says “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. For theKingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” In order to carry out his commands in today’sworld and foreseeable future, teachers cannot sit and wait by Jesus’s side and wait for thechildren to come to us (MacQueen). As the body of Christ, teachers must remove all hindrancesand all the walls that have separated the children from their chance to learn about God: “Train upa child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Keen 1 Works CitedLabi, Nadya, et al. "The New Funday School." Anonymous 160.25 (2008): 60. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. <http://proxygsu-sche.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=8626918&site=ehost-live>. MacQueen, Neil. “beyond ‘Sunday’ -and- beyond ‘School.’” Sunday Software 3 ser.: n. page. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <http://www.sundaysoftware.com/ stats3.htm> The New International Bible. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. New International Vers. Shafer, Kent. "Sunday School Lessons Are Failing." Already Gone. By Church Revelance. N. pag. Already Gone Book. Church Relevance, 30 June 2009. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. <http://alreadygonebook.wordpress.com/2009/06/30/ sunday-school-lessons-are-failing/>. MacQueen, Neil. "Are Kids Too Busy These Days for Sunday School?" Sunday Software 1st ser. (Dec. 2009): n. pag. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. <http://www.sundaysoftware.com/stats3.htm>. Knox, Grahame. “Creative Bible Study Methods for Youth Leaders.” Insight Typepad. Creative Commons Attribution, Jan. 2009. web. 13 Sept. 2011. <http://www.insight.typepad.co.uk/bible_study_methods.pdf>